Last season the Detroit Tigers took the division and this season I don’t see much difference. Although, I do see a surprise team that (if all the chips fall correctly) could make a run at a Wild Card spot and possibly the division.
- Division’s Best Player: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (2012 Line: 44 HR, 139 RBI, .339/.393/.606, .999 OPS)- I mean, there isn’t really much more you can say about a guy who won the first Triple Crown since 1967. He coupled it with the American League MVP, while leading a Tiger team to the World Series. What won my (if I had one) MVP vote? 11 HR, 30 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.071 in September and October.
- Division’s Best Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (2012 Line: 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 238.1 IP, 239 K’s)- 2011 Cy Young and MVP award winner, the guy is just winning at everything. Put up another spectacular season in 2012 and is poised to do it again. By the way, he’s also a winner off the field.
- Division’s Best Manager: Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers- No matter what me or anyone else thinks out there, Jim Leyland continues to just get it done. Clearly bred from the old-school of managers, he did a great job of keeping this team focused after a first half that saw the Tigers go 44-42. He never changed his style, always making it clear they would be there in the end. And speaking of getting it done, against the top threats in his division the Tigers went 35-19. Now if only he could get them over the hump in the World Series where his last two trips (2006, 2012) have resulted in just one win.
- Division’s “X” Factor: Cleveland Indians Rotation- Every now and then I get a hunch about a team (sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong). But I truly believe, that if Masterson, Jimenez, and Myers (with Trevor Bauer not far behind) can put it together behind an offense that looks as good as any within the division, this team could be this year’s Oakland Athletics. Now that is a HUGE if, but I think if the Terry Francona signing is going to benefit one aspect of this ball club it will be with the veterans, particularly on the staff. The Brett Myers signing will be an important one because he will hold the others on the staff accountable without fear. If anyone needs that kind of discipline, it’s the Indians “ace” Ubaldo Jimenez; who has looked downright lost since his breakout 2010.
- Detroit Tigers (2012 Finish- 1st (88-74))- The defending American League champs added Torii Hunter in the offseason, and getting Victor Martinez back will be huge. Last Fall against the Giants, one of the things missing during that series for the Tigers was a quality at-bat. Losing Martinez (a high average, high on-base, good power player) showed. Fielder, Cabrera, and Avila went a combined 5-for-34 with ten strikeouts, four walks and three RBI’s (all on one Cabrera home run). That was a problem consistently with the Tigers, not showing enough balance in their lineup at times to make a rotation uncomfortable. This season, they’re hoping Hunter (16 HR, 92 RBI, .313 BA) has enough left to give a little more punch to their lineup. Verlander and Scherzer lead the staff, if Fister can overcome mechanical problems he makes it a formidable trio. Porcello appears to be on his last try to solidify his status among the group.
- Cleveland Indians (2012 Finish- 4th (68-94))- The Indians overhaul went as follows: Out with Manny Acta, in with Terry Francona. Upgrade. Out with often injured Grady Sizemore, in with Michael Bourn and is 152 steals and gold glove defense in center (as well as durability). Upgrade. Shin-Soo Choo out, Nick Swisher in. Swisher brings power, experience, and a new attitude to Cleveland they needed from a veteran who knows how to win. The additions made are a welcome makeover to a franchise that has been stale for a few years. I consider them a dark horse/sleeper pick because if their rotation can blossom (new addition Brett Myers and rookie/prospect Trevor Bauer join them in 2013) they can compete for a Wild Card. Winning it is one thing, but they very well could be there.
- Chicago White Sox (2012 Finish- 2nd (85-77))- Their bullpen is good, the rotation, led by Peavy/Sale/Floyd, is good, and the lineup has its spots (can we take a moment to appreciate the consistent genius of Paul Konerko?). But the outfield has questions, Tyler Flowers isn’t blossoming (pun not intended) into what many envisioned when brought over from Atlanta, and which Adam Dunn are you gonna get this year? Kudos on the job well done in 2012 by first time manager Robin Ventura. He will have his work cut out for him to get this bunch to first place (or second in my opinion). It can be done, I just am weary when part of that if includes the hope Alex Rios will show up.
- Kansas City Royals (2012 Finish- 3rd (72-90))- The Royals went out and got themselves a whole heap of shiny new rotation toys. I’ve always had a problem with Dayton Moore as a general manager; sometimes he seems to get it (Hosmer, Moustakas, and the trade to get Escobar are highlights) and other times he just boggles my mind (three-years, $16 million to Francouer? Wil Myers for James Shields and Wade Davis? Jeremy Guthrie for three-years, $25 million?). I don’t fault Moore for going after pitching, the Royals rotation ranked near the bottom of the American League in every category that mattered. But james Shields (who I like as a two or three) is not an “Ace”, and the questions of whether Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie can be reliable behind him isn’t comforting. What I am most interested in seeing is whether or not Moustakas and Hosmer can become the hitters they are projected to be, and if they will be able to get someone (ANYONE) to step in and finally fix the developmental aspect of their farm system, which has wasted prospect after prospect for far to long. How much they hit will determine whether they finish fourth or fifth, if they pitch a little, they finish fourth.
- Minnesota Twins ( 2012 Finish- 5th (66-96))- This team is the one within the division, that I honestly feel could finish either first (long shot) or right where I have them in fifth. It’s hard to go against a team with Joe Mauer and a healthy Justin Morneau. Especially when Morneau was hitting the way he was during the WBC this spring. But the pitching was so horrible last season, I couldn’t justify their position being higher than fifth because I couldn’t see anyone bailing them out. That is where the intrigue comes from. Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey (remember him?) now make up this rotation and that group could put together a solid season. Scott Diamond got his shot last season and rewarded the Twins with a 12-9, 3.54 ERA campaign ( a huge plus considering their staff put up the highest ERA in baseball last season). This team has potential on both sides of the ball, and with Ron Gardenhire (one of my favorite managers in baseball and Tom Kelly disciple) counting them this far out might be my mistake come season’s end.